While you drive past, it looks like just another roundabout in the city. But looking out of the car window, one wonders why they felt the need, at this particular intersection in Nagpur, to tell people that Varanasi is 729 km away and Jabalpur is 273 km away. There is no apparent connection between these cities and they are not even in the same state. But, as one stops by, the thick green foliage reveals a crumbling stone pillar, marked as “Zero Mile Stone”.
“It is the centrepoint of India,” quips the taxi driver. Adding, as an afterthought, “If four horses are set free from all four corners of the country, this is where they will meet.” That may just have been an urban legend to garner tourist footfall, but it was certainly worth exploring. After all, the Zero Mile has been designated as a monument by the Maharashtra Tourism.
The Zero Mile Stone was built by the British during the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, in 1907. It comprises a sandstone pillar and four stucco horses, which were added later — corresponding to the anecdote the taxi driver had to share. The British considered Nagpur to be the centre of India from the time the country was divided into various provinces. The Survey, which began in 1802 and was completed in 1871, demarcated the boundaries of British India, and, measured the height of Himalayan peaks such as Mt Everest, K2 and Kanchenjunga.
But ever since the Partition, Nagpur is no longer the geographical centre of India anymore. That status has now shifted to Karaundi, a small village in Madhya Pradesh’s Katni district, approximately 343 km from the historical Zero Mile. However, for the city of Nagpur, Zero Mile remains the centre of attention in many ways. There is a Zero Mile Music Festival, besides many concerts and art shows that are held around the location. Now, though, there are plans to overhaul the monument and its surroundings. The Nagpur Metro will not only redefine the whole area around the heritage structure, it will also build a 20-storey metro station named after it.
The building has been designed by French architects and a museum dedicated to the science of surveying will also be built around it — to capture the importance of the original marker and the survey. It will be the only station in the country where the train will pass right through the building. From being the symbol of British India, Zero Mile will become the symbol of modern Nagpur.